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Begich swatted, petted by Outside interest group ads

Ben Anderson

If you’re looking for a potential backer for a political campaign, it doesn’t get much better than Mark Zuckerberg, the 28-year-old founder of Facebook and the 25th wealthiest person in the United States. And in a roundabout way, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is now benefiting from the support of the social media superstar, whose pro-immigration-reform Political Action Committee FWD.us this week unveiled a new ad in support of the Democrat from Alaska.

The ad doesn’t even mention immigration, instead boasting that Begich has supported the oil and gas and fishing industries. But The Council for American Job Growth, an offshoot of FWD.us and the group responsible for the ad, is also hosting ads for Republican lawmakers in support of immigration reform. And Zuckerberg has recently thrown his weight behind the immigration reform issue.

We’d warn you to brace yourselves for yet another lengthy campaign season, but it’s already too late. An anti-immigration group called NumbersUSA has also been running ads against Begich since the beginning of April.

“Who thinks Sen. Mark Begich’s plan to bring in foreign workers to take Alaska jobs is a good idea?” the ad’s narrator asks.

The seat of Begich -- a freshman Democratic senator in perennially Republican-leaning Alaska -- is viewed as a potential pickup for the GOP when he runs for reelection next year, and the new ads are a pointed example of how much the controversial 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision has come to impact and extend the modern election cycle in the U.S.

That decision allowed independent expenditure groups -- organizations that don’t endorse a specific candidate, but rather espouse a particular political issue or ideology -- to spend unlimited funds in support of their cause.

Begich is currently seeing both sides of the coin when it comes to Citizens United, with ads both attacking and supporting his stance on immigration reform, like some kind of punishment/reward system for his stances on issues.

Earlier this month, right after the NumbersUSA campaign launched, the Alaska congressional delegation announced in a letter to leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that they would welcome a comprehensive immigration reform package currently being discussed in Congress:

“...we join today to express our hope that the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill being drafted by our colleagues be brought to the floor of our respective bodies for consideration this session. Like our colleagues drafting the bill, we believe this legislation should secure our border, streamline our legal immigration system and provide a clear and responsible path to citizenship for those already here.”

Meanwhile, a controversial vote by Begich against expanded background checks for gun buyers last week has also drawn the ire of another special interest group, Organizing for Action.

Begich strayed from the party line in voting against the checks, helping to kill the proposed amendment by a vote of 54-46. As a result, Organizing for Action, a group that supports the agenda of President Barack Obama, is taking steps to inform voters of how their senators voted on the bill -- and that includes a phone bank last weekend in Alaska, reports The Hill.

Never mind the fact that if Begich is voted out of office, he’d likely be replaced by a Republican candidate in an already fiercely pro-gun state. But the group’s executive director tells The Hill that the group is just out to change lawmakers’ minds via their constituents, and not to damage them politically.

“We’re going to look to change votes on both the Democrat and the Republican side,” said Jon Carson, the group’s director.

Though Begich is being both helped and hurt by Outside interest groups, some of his fate is still in his own hands. According to his most recent Federal Election Commission filings, the senator raised more than $900,000 in the first quarter of 2013 -- the early stages of what’s sure to be a fierce fight for a sophomore term as Alaska senator.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com